Central Information Commission
Case BriefsCOVID 19Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Julka, Chief Information Commissioner, noted that the RTI application seeking very pertinent information with regard to COVID-19 pandemic was shuttled between one public authority to another and held that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare shall collate all the information and furnish the same to complainant and on its’ website.

Complainant sought records by way of his RTI application on the following points:

  • Date when the Government of India first received information on the coronavirus/Wuhan virus/ virus affecting China.
  • Whether any communication was received by the Government of India about a possible pandemic like situation in India between the period of November 2019 to March, 2020?
  • Copy of the minutes of meeting that took place into the possibility of declaring coronavirus a health emergency or not between the period of March 5th to March 14th, 2020.
  • Whether the Government of India/any of its ministries or departments had received warnings/alerts/communication from the World Health Organisation on the possibility of coronavirus affecting India?
  • Whether any internal reports on a possibility of a pandemic like situation arising in India was communicated within the Ministry or its departments?
  • Any intelligence information on the coronavirus diseases originating from China possibly affecting India in future?
  • Whether the Government of India/this Ministry or its various departments sought China’s assistance in getting the sample of Virus?
  • Was China requested to share virus genetic sequence?
  • On which date did ministry of health first communicated the information of Virus possibly affecting India to PMO?
  • When was the issue of inadequate PPE discussed in the Ministry?
  • Whether additional funds were sought to fight against the virus. If so the date on which the first request and subsequent requests were made and to whom be furnished?
  • Whether the Ministry proposed a ban on incoming Chinese citizens to India?
  • Whether the ICMR received any reports/communications/internal warnings/memos/internal reports during the period of November 2019 to March 2020 about the possibility of a pandemic like situation in India due to the virus: To this ICMR responded that all the information pertaining to circulars, notifications, etc, is available on the ICMR website.
  • Whether the Government of India/this Ministry or its various departments was monitoring the situation in China and its possible effects on India?

To almost all the above queries, ICMR responded with a standard response — Not pertains to ICMR.

Complainant remained dissatisfied with the respondent’s response.


Commission observed that a voluntary disclosure of all information that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of public who having to seek information should be an exception.

Another significant observation was that, an open government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms.


Several decisions are being made by the Governments involving huge interventions in the healthcare impacting daily lives of billions of people, hence it is essential that the decisions are thoroughly documented in order for the Government to remain accountable.

Information pertaining to COVID-19

Complainant sought very pertinent information with regard to COVID-19 situation, which could not be made available by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Commission held that authentic, verified and cogent reply based on factual information needs to be furnished to the complainant as also disclose on the Public Authority website for the benefit of public at large.

Secretary, Health & Family Welfare was advised to have this matter examined at an appropriate level and the Nodal Authority so notified should furnish all the details sought by the Complainant in a clear, cogent and precise manner within a period of 30 days.

In view of the above complaints were disposed of. [Saurav Das v. CPIO, 2020 SCC OnLine CIC 626, decided on 23-07-2020]

COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

EPFO released  Rs  868 crore pension along with Rs 105 crore arrear on account of restoration of commuted value of pension.

On the recommendation of Central Board of Trustees (EPFO), the Government of India accepted one of the long standing demands of workers to allow restoration of commuted value of pension after 15 years. Earlier there was no provision for restoration of commuted pension and the pensioners continued to receive reduced pension on account of commutation lifelong. This is a historical step for the benefit of pensioners under EPS-95.

EPFO has more than 65 lakhs pensioners catered through its 135 regional offices. EPFO officers and staff battled all odds during this Covid-19 lockdown period  and processed pension payment for May, 2020  to ensure credit of pension in the bank account of pensioners on schedule.

Ministry of Labour and Employment

[Press Release dt. 01-06-2020]

[Source: PIB]

NewsTreaties/Conventions/International Agreements

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India on 16th December 2019 signed a $250 million loan to Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) to expand energy efficiency investments in India that will benefit agricultural, residential and institutional consumers.

In addition, $46 million financings will be provided from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), to be administered by ADB.

ADB previously approved a $200 million loan to EESL, a public sector energy service company, in 2016 for Demand-Side Energy Efficiency Sector Project that focused on efficient lighting and appliances.

The signatories to the loan agreement were Shri Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary (Fund Bank and ADB), Department of Economic Affairs in India’s Ministry of Finance, and Mr Kenichi Yokoyama, Country Director of ADB’s India Resident Mission, signed the agreement for EESL.

EESL will also explore business models to generate greater public demand for e-vehicles to support India’s current push for electric vehicles.

Promoting awareness of the benefits of using energy-efficient technologies is another feature of the project. Awareness campaigns will engage local organisations in knowledge-sharing and training, with a focus on women electricity consumers. Capacity building for electricity distribution, regulatory agencies, and other government bodies will also be carried out.

Accompanying the loan will be technical assistance (TA) of $2 million to support EESL in implementing the project, including a gender action plan, mobilising private sector participation in energy efficiency services, identifying new business opportunities, and transferring knowledge about successful models.

The TA will also support the identification and development of new subprojects and pilot test some technologies. The grant comes from the Clean Technology Fund, to be administered by ADB.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.

In 2018, it made commitments of new loans and grants amounting to $21.6 billion.

Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members — 49 from the region.

Ministry of Finance

[Press Release dt. 17-12-2019]

[Source: PIB]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

“It is a fundamental right of every citizen to have his own political theory and ideas and to propagate the same and work for their establishment so long he does not stick to do so by force or violence.”

Sessions Court, Berhampur: First Additional Sessions Judge S.K Sahoo sentenced Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, to life imprisonment for waging, attempting to wage a war and abetting waging of a war against the Union of India.

Sabyasachi Panda, one of the dreaded Maoist leaders in Odisha, is allegedly involved in several major cases of Maoist violence in Odisha such as – attack on R. Udaygiri town in Gajapati district, the Nayagarh armoury loot, the murder of VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his four associates in Kandhamal district and abduction of two Italian tourists in Kandhamal district. He was initially a member of the outlawed CPI (Maoist), from which he was expelled in 2012. After his expulsion, he formed the Odisha Maovadi Party (OMP).

Background of this case was that the police was informed by its local asset that Naxal leader Sabyasachi Panda (accused herein), against whom many cases of murder, rioting, kidnapping, sedition and unlawful activities were pending in different districts of Odisha, was planning to organize disruptive activities by staying in the house of a local village resident. Following a gunfight, Panda was arrested and around a dozen phones, 45 SIM cards, laptops, cash, gold and a bundle of leaflets containing anti-government slogans were seized from him. It was ascertained that he had come with an intention to conspire against the State by organizing terrorist gang attacks and that he intended to further his disruptive activities which were against the unity, integrity, sovereignty and war against the State. He shouted slogans against the government such as “Mao Sangathan Jindabad Police Kukura Murdabad, Sasashtra Sangram Dwara Maobadi Sasan Prathista Hebo”.  An FIR was registered against him under Sections 353, 121, 121(A), 124 (A) of the Penal Code, 1860 and Sections 25(1-B)(a) and 27 of the Arms Act, 1959 read with Sections 18, 20 and 38 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Panda pleaded not guilty to the charges drawn against him and claimed for trial. Hence, this case.

Learned defence counsel D.K. Pattnaik pleaded that since the independent witnesses examined by the prosecution have not completely supported the case of the prosecution, the evidences of official witnesses cannot be relied upon and for the said reason only prosecution case fails. He further said that one Mouser was found from the possession of the accused and he attempted to fire to police personnel by said Mouser, but during the course of investigation, the complainant or any of the investigating officers did not take any step to obtain the fingerprints of accused.

Learned Additional Public Prosecutor Gyanendra Nath Jena argued that there was clear, cogent, clinching, trustworthy and direct evidence available against the accused. He further submitted that though the independent witnesses had not supported the prosecution’s case in toto, they had supported prosecution case to some extent, and their evidence could not be thrown away due to minor and trivial contradictions. He pleaded that some independent witnesses might retract due to gravity of the case but the Court must apply the principle enunciated in State of Orissa v. Uttara Pradhan, 2017 SCC OnLine Ori 314 where it was held that “while disposing of sessions cases, the court has to stick to the evidence on record instead of expressing his impression or thoughts and probabilities and possibilities which are unknown to criminal jurisprudence.”

The Court, after hearing both the parties, observed and opined as below:

Evidence of official witnesses:

The Court relied on Sumit Tomar v. State of Punjab, (2013) 1 SCC 395 where it was held that “it is desirable to examine independent witness, however, in the absence of any such witness if the statements of Police Officer are reliable and when there is no animosity established against them by the accused, conviction based on their statements cannot be faulted with.”

Inconsistencies in evidence:

Placing reliance on State of Karnataka v. Suvarnamma, (2015) 1 SCC 323 it was held that “the court dealing with a criminal trial is to perform the task of ascertaining the truth from the material before it. It has to punish the guilt and protect innocent. Burden of proof is on the prosecution and the prosecution has to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt. Much weight cannot be given to minor discrepancies which are bound to occur on account of difference in perception, loss of memory and other invariable factors.”

Assault on public servant (Section 353 IPC) and using unlicensed arms (Section 3 Arms Act):

The Court opined that the evidence of prosecution clearly pointed out that there was a tussle between accused and the police personnel during the raid and his arrest. When the accused tried to flee from the spot, he used criminal force against the police with an intention to prevent and deter those persons from discharging their duties as such public servants. He was in possession of a country made revolver with live ammunition in contravention of Section 3 of the Arms Act. He also used the said revolver in contravention of Section 5 of Arms Act for which offence under Sections 353 IPC and Sections 25(1-B)(a) and 27 of the Arms Act were clearly made out against him.

Assaulting President or Governor (Section 124 IPC)

However, the Court finding Panda not guilty for the offence under Section 124 of the IPC opining that there was absolutely no evidence available against him to establish that he had assaulted or used criminal force to the President, Governor, etc. with intend to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power.

Waging War against the Government of India:

The Court opined that it is the settled principle of law that to constitute an offence under Section 121 IPC, no specified number of persons is necessary, and the test is to look at the purpose or intention of the gathering. The object of the gathering must be to attain, by force and violence, an object of a general public nature thereby striking directly against the Government authority. A person taking part in an organizing an armed attack on the constituted authority and for subverting the government is guilty of the offence if he recruits people with the said object, and punishes those who refuse to join him, he is guilty of waging war. Abetting the waging of war is also ascertained on the same basis as waging of war.

It was observed that so long as a man tries to inflame feeling to excite estate of mind he is not guilty of anything more than sedition. It is only when he incites to action that his guilty of instigating and therefore abetting the waging of war.

Further, there are two kinds of conspiracies namely (i) conspiracy to commit the offences punishable under Section 121 IPC; and (ii) conspiracy to overawe by means of criminal force or show of criminal force the Central or State Government.  The word ‘overawe’ imports more than the creation of one apprehension or alarmed or even fear. It connotes the creation of a situation in which the members of the Central or the State Government feel compelled to choose between yielding to force or exposing themselves and the members of the public to very serious danger.

Laxity of investigating authorities:

The Court also observed that the authorities had investigated a grave and sensational case in a very casual manner. Prosecution had not conducted trial of the case properly and the official witnesses have adduced their evidence haphazardly. No steps were taken to collect fingerprints of the accused for examination; alleged revolver used by accused was not sent for any examination or ballistic opinion; call detail records (CDRs) of the phone number used by accused was not obtained; investigating officer had deposited seized gold and cash without taking permission from the competent court for shape deposit.

However, it was opined that such irregularities would not vitiate the case of the prosecution where other clear, cogent, clinching and trustworthy materials were produced by the prosecution before the court. Reliance in this regard was placed on State v. Gurmit Singh, (2014) 9 SCC 632 where it was held that “in cases of defective investigation, the court has to be circumspect in evaluating the evidence, but it would not be correct to acute the accused solely on account of defect in investigation. To do so would tantamount to playing into the hands of the investigating officer even if the investigation is designedly defective”.

In view of the abovestated facts and law, the Court opined that though the seizure of incriminating materials and slogans given by the accused were not supported by any independent witness, considering the facts and circumstances, evidence of official witnesses could not be disbelieved. It was held that while the accused was apprehended he was attempting to wage war and abetting others to wage war against the Government of India; he was also conspiring to wage war against the Government and to overawe by means of criminal force. As such, he was convicted for offence under Sections 121, 121-A, 353 of IPC and Sections 25(1-B)(a) and 27 of Arms Act. He was thus, sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment and a total fine of Rs 25,000 was imposed on him.[State v. Sabyasachi Panda, Sessions Trial No. 33 of 2015, decided on 18-05-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench comprising of C.J. Ranjan Gogoi and Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph, JJ. sought information from the Government of India about the details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of purchase order for 36 Rafale Fighter Jets.

The Bench allowed the petitioner to argue the case in-person in a criminal writ petition wherein questions were raised over the Rafale deal whereby India had agreed to purchase 36 Rafale Fighter Jets made by a French company Dassault. In its order, the Court made it clear that it was not issuing any notice at the instant stage; however, it ought to be apprised by the Government about the steps involved in the decision-making process of awarding the contract. It was further clarified that while requiring the Government to produce the information, the purpose was solely to satisfy the Court and any averments made in the petition were not taken into account.

The Court stated in categorical terms that information which was sought would not cover the issue of pricing or the question of technical suitability of the equipment for purposes of the requirements of the Indian Air Force. The requisite information was directed to be placed before the Court in three separate sealed covers on or before 29 October 2018, to be filed with the Secretary General of the Court. The matter is further listed for 31 October 2018. [Manohar Lal Sharma v. Narendra Damodardas Modi,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1920, dated 10-10-2018]